SOAR provides tutoring for local children

By Nandika Chatterjee, Staff Writer

University students can volunteer to tutor bilingual grade school students through the Student Opportunities for After-School Resources outreach program. This partnership between the College of Education and Champaign Unit 4 School District allows student volunteers to make a direct impact on the C-U community.

Griselda Escobedo, junior in Education and LAS, was drawn to the program for the chance to gain real-world experience.

“As someone who hoped to go into education and is interested in language acquisition, this program seemed like an experience that would be really valuable for me,” Escobedo said.

She tutors students at the International Prep Academy in Champaign. Though many of the volunteers come from the College of Education, all students can volunteer.

Escobedo said the experience is worthwhile regardless of one’s Spanish-speaking proficiency.

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SOAR initially began at the request of Latino immigrant families who wanted their children to have extra help to achieve academic success. The program’s main focus is to improve reading comprehension. Tutors aid children with homework and other supplemental activities.

SOAR aims to develop skills valuable outside the classroom as well, such as critical thinking and leadership skills.

College volunteers usually teach students from second to fifth grade. Escobedo said her students seem eager to return to the program each year.

“Some of them have even asked if we could come in more than just the three days a week the program takes place,” she said.

Escobedo is grateful for the professional experience SOAR has granted her, but also for the connections she’s been able to make with her students.

“The SOAR program is a tutoring program,” she said, “but more than that, it is also a mentoring program.”

Like many of the tutors, Escobedo is invested in her students’ academic and personal growth. One student whom she’s had for two years has opened up to her, sharing facts about his favorite video games and family life.

She plans her own schedule while keeping this tutoring commitment in the back of her mind.

“We have become close friends,” she said. “And the idea of not being able to do SOAR and see him has become a big factor when selecting my class schedules each semester.”

Escobedo said she was inspired to join thanks to Lupita Lang, coordinator of SOAR.

“As college students, it can be very difficult to imagine anything other than the ‘university bubble,’” Escobedo said. “SOAR gives us the opportunity to become more knowledgeable and involved with the outside Champaign-Urbana community, which I am incredibly thankful for.”

Lang, doctoral student in Education, joined SOAR because it was related to her research in bilingual education. As coordinator, Lang pairs 40 to 45 children with 120 and 150 University undergraduates to serve as volunteer tutors each semester.

Lang said one reason to join is that these students often do not have a strong educational support system at home.

“A lot of the parents that come from working-class backgrounds have to work multiple jobs to be able to provide for the family and do not have the time to help children with homework, something that our volunteers can help us do during their tutoring time,” she said.

Now her third year in the position, Lang has a vision for SOAR to further expand the program.

“We would like to expand our capacity to serve more students and more grade levels at the school,” she said. “That would mean the ability to recruit more U of I undergrads.”

Olga Halpern, a teacher who works with the program, sees the direct benefits of the mentorships formed on her students.

“The program gives the children the opportunity to interact with young adults who can make a difference in their lives, and vice versa,” she said. “From a college student’s perspective, the program is another layer to help them with their learning.”

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